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Yes, We Have a Black President, but…

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Angela Glover Blackwell. Credit: Dale Robbins.

In the years since the 1963 March on Washington, I fear that for millions of black people, little has changed.

A few black people have become part of a small class of wealthy and influential individuals. We have a black president. But the majority of black people remain either saddled with poverty, unemployment and life in America’s ghettos, or are struggling to hold onto a fragile middle-class status that may be unavailable to their children.

Poverty among black people is still nearly triple that of whites. In fact, 26 percent of black people live below the poverty level. Forty-five percent of children born into the black middle class will end up in poverty. Fifty years after the March on Washington, black unemployment is twice that of whites, just as it was then. Seventy-four percent of black children still attend segregated schools.

In 1963, the marchers demanded changes to education, employment, wages and housing at the legal level, while Dr. King gave the moral argument for ending prejudice. The appeal to morality carried a subtext: polish the global image of America that had been tarnished by continuing legal segregation and televised images of dogs and hoses being used against black youth.

Today, that moral argument is still urgent, but it has been joined by an economic one of even greater import. Fifty years ago, black people were the face of discrimination, and their percentage of the population was relatively small. That has changed. By 2043, the majority of people in the U.S. will be people of color: black, Latino, Asian, American Indian; and the population of white Americans will be older. The economic future of the nation depends on ensuring that the talents and energy of all can be tapped. The economic need has now fused with the moral argument.

Finally making good on the demands of the 1963 March on Washington will not only help those who’ve been left behind. It will make the nation strong. Equity — fair and just inclusion into a society in which all can participate and prosper — is the superior growth model.

Angela Glover Blackwell is founder and CEO of PolicyLink, the national research and action institute advancing economic and social equity. Blackwell is a leading voice in advocating for public policies that improve access and opportunity for low-income people and communities of color. She appeared on Moyers & Company in April 2012.

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  • John Bailo

    But the majority of black people remain either saddled with poverty, unemployment and life in America’s ghettos, or are struggling to hold onto a fragile middle-class status that may be unavailable to their children.

    Gee, welcome to the club! This I think is the great misconception of Black People…as humorously satirized by Eddie Murphy in his classic skit, White Like Me. In it, he has himself made up as a Caucasian for a day. As he goes through his routine, suddenly doors magically open and people hand him interest free money with zero background checks.

    The sad reality is that Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and Whites are all living the new deregulated lifestyle, post-Meritocracy. Look at the Ivy League graduates of all races struggling to get by. If whites close to the ground have it slightly better right now, it is likely due to money and assets their parents earned in the previous generations.

    Nope, I really don’t see any systemic inequality. What I do see is a lack of ladders, other than lottery tickets, for nearly all people to rise above subsistence living. That inability of low income blacks to see beyond their own situation is probably what causes the most friction between them and whites who but for the color of their skin, are in the same exact position as blacks!

  • Ruru

    So, what then explains the significantly higher unemployment rates in the African-American community? There are different downward pressures affecting all labor that are stronger than ever, but it would be ignorant to claim that there aren’t serious systemic problems affecting African-Americans that the dominant white class does not encounter at anywhere near similar levels.

  • Anonymous

    One canst but be poisoned by a lie naïvely taken in and believed lovingly as one would a lifelong friend; Oh, old song: “My Country ‘Tis Of Thee, Sweet Land of Liberty Of Thee I Sing; land where our fathers died; land of the Pilgrim’s pride, from every mountain side–let freedom ring,” so eloquently espoused, even under ironic “symbolic shadow” of thy nemeses, in the summer of 1963; thou art foul indeed.

  • Anonymous

    To say that white’s don’t resources and options that blacks just have is ridiculous. You said so yourself John, resources from parents, grandparents, job, and business, family and friends, affinity groups.Yes there are a few whites without these resources but the vast majority have made a way for their own.

  • Anonymous

    Life is more difficult for people of color. I see it getting worse for all except the top 5 or 10%. Corporations own our elected. We have a few really good ones, but the dirty ones so our weight the honorable, that their good intentions lie in the dust. I keep trying to drum up my fighting spirit, but I just do not see the good and decent taking back our government.

  • Ildiko

    Obama’s charge was not to help blacks, it was to help everyone reach their goals. Well, here we are unemployment up, gas prices up etc. Next time lets vote not for the color of the skin but for experience in leadership

  • Anonymous

    As an African American it is unfair to just target President Obama with black unemployment , urban blight etc. just because he is black. No one complained when other president were in office the rate was just as high the problem just as worse it is magnified because he’s in office. Remember he’s the president of all the people not just a black president if he did the right wing would explode. let step back ever since he took office the right has obstructed every attempt he tried to make it better for everyone they denied his right to govern the media praised them for their actions instead of giving them cover for their actions . the jobs bill sitting on Boehner desk for 2 1/2 yrs will not come to a vote but a vote to attack to right woman choice ,civil, voters right will. We only have to look what Lee Atwater prescribed “southern strategy ” cut every thing that would benefit the brown people choke them so the would not have a hand up. Most people are not looking for a hand out they are working people unable to afford healthcare, food, or make a living wage when the right refuse to raise the min wage or equal pay for women their intention is to keep them poor. During the Bush years there was a wave of majority of all manufacturing companies going overseas & hiding their money in caymans islands to avoid paying taxes. However when president Obama attempted to bring some this money home along with these jobs he was thwarted by the GOP. It is easy to blame the black guy for not doing that would be easy but that would not be true

  • Anonymous

    Dr. King also protested and organized against the plight of “poor” Americans. Now that the top 1% of Americans controls the majority of the wealth in this country – I suggest a return to basics as prescribed by Dr. King. There are many minorities who suffer poverty, including women of all colors. I wish we could see a shift to recognizing in this day and time, poverty and fringe living affects more than half of U.S. citizens – there is strength in numbers.

  • Anonymous

    I truly believe that poverty in American is more and more a class issue more than one of color. HALF of Americans live below or near the poverty level – for the 1st time in 2011, a family of 4 making $34,000 a year is eligible for food assistance.

    Also, almost half of Americans in 2009 had NO ASSETS… ponder that and try to absorb it. Things are changing rapidly and we all need to tune in.

    Remember Romney’s infamous 47% classified as “takers?” They took nothing in 2009 – their debt exceeded their assets. (Source: Census Bureau, and author Paul Buckheit, “Half of Americans below or at Poverty Line, May 2013)

    a quote from Buckheit… “Based on household expense totals, poverty is creeping into the top half of America.

    A family in the top half, making $60,000 per year, will have their income reduced by a total tax bill of about $15,000 ($3,000 for federal income tax and $12,000 for payroll, state, and local taxes. The Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau agree that food, housing, and transportation expenses will deduct another $30,000, and that total household expenditures will be about $50,000. That leaves nothing.

    Nothing, that is, except debt. The median debt level rose to $75,600 in 2009, while the median family net worth, according to the Federal Reserve, dropped from $126,400 in 2007 to $77,300 in 2010.

    5. Putting it in Perspective

    Inequality is at its ugliest for the hungriest people. While food support was being targeted for cuts, just 20 rich Americans made as much from their 2012 investments as the entire 2012 SNAP (food assistance) budget, which serves 47 million people.

    And as Congress continues to cut life-sustaining programs, its members should note that their 400 friends on the Forbes list made more from their stock market gains last year than the total amount of the food, housing, and education budgets combined.

    Arguments about poverty won’t end. Neither should our efforts to uncover the awful truth.”

  • Kae Bender

    I totally agree with Angela that “Equity — fair and just inclusion into a society in which all can participate and prosper — is the superior growth model.” And equity is not just superior but the only sustainable growth model.

    In a B&W society, white privilege does skew opportunity. However the problem is not just minority devaluing but the entire structure of the system based on short-sighted greed mentality that is currently consuming business and legislatures across our nation and the world. Without an educated, empowered, and enabled populace, the old feudal economy based on domination and control will continue to marginalize subgroups, blame those being victimized, and demean the very productivity that creates progress – and the profit – that drives the system. Unless we work together for sustainable progress for humanity and the earth, our mutual future is at risk.

    What is needed is not more deregulated for-excessive-profit privatization to greed-base current public services but to see the common unity we all share beneath our surface differences. Working to improve every individual’s success is the only way that each can contribute her/his fair share to the common welfare. That is not only equitable and sustainable but the best — perhaps only — choice for humanity and the earth’s very survival.

    As long as we keeping pointing fingers and allocating blame, we’re distracting ourselves from working together to create a better result. Just changing the players at the top will never work as long as the mindset remains the increasingly divisive Us v Them perpetual conflict. Rather, we have to find an inclusive path to work together or we’ll never arrest the downward spiral of inertia.

    It’s not that government is bad or that corporations are evil. The problem of each is their hierarchical foundation. Top-down oneupmanship dehumanizes the many to reward the few. This exclusionary model is so badly broken it can’t be fixed; instead, we must envision a new collaborative system and build an inclusive, generative society that nurtures, supports, and sustains each member so they can contribute fully to the global future for all.

    Only when each individual is capable of fully filling her/his potential can we join in common unity to maximize global peace and prosperity. That is the only equitable and sustainable growth model — and the only way to achieve the future we each yearn to live in.

  • Diane Isaac

    Given this reality, it becomes even more pressing to ensure that black students raise the bar when competing with their white counterparts in school. As a high school teacher I am faced every day with the struggle to engage all students to learn and achieve, but it is especially painful to see how many students of color come to me so ill equipped in basic reading and writing skills and often seem totally disinterested in learning. I go home every day with question: how can I encourage these kids to value education? Will they make it in college? What will they do for a living? Will they be equipped with the knowledge base to be informed voters? The task is daunting.

  • Willard Bickford

    Thank you Ms Blackwell. Couldn’t agree more. Pres Obama will be remembered as catering to the corporate monsters that are destroying what is left of the middle class. Instead of a War on Terror and Drugs, we need a War on Political Corruption…

  • johnny mars

    Knucklehead! We have a BI-racial president. You probably think that Halle Berry and Tiger Woods are black, too. And here’s some news: that redneck who shot Trayvon is actually a hispanic Jew. Get your facts straight.

  • johnny mars

    Black, white, republicon or demolicon – it doesn’t really matter. Democracy gives the voter the illusion of choice. Just a few ruthless elite own and rule everything and everybody. Wake up, sheeple!

  • Anonymous

    i get so tired of black people blaming Obama for the high unemployment in the black community .First of all black unemployment has always been high and even higher during the Bush term.Get off your behinds and get the people to the polls and vote the people out who are holding the poor ransom with their policies.Obama did not run on Black America he ran on the United States Of america!

  • Anonymous

    John — You make many good points, but blacks are not entirely to blame for the tension with whites. Historical and ongoing racism plays a role since whites have often benefitted to some extent from privileges associated with skin color, while blacks had a harder time due to extra barriers and burdens imposed on them due to race. Whites who are poor and middle class actually played a role in discriminating against blacks through institutionalized racism when whites thought they were aligned with the white elite. Now whites are seeing “but for the color of their skin, they are in the same exact position as blacks” as you say. But resentment blacks have is legitimate since whites have been enablers of systemic racism — this race-based system has evolved into a broader system of extreme income inequality that impacts not only people of color but whites as well.

  • Anonymous

    So, people only voted for Obama because of skin color? You make it sound as if all white presidents who came before Obama were fully qualified and competent. The wealth gap didn’t happen overnight. It’s been in process for several decades, so Obama cannot be solely blamed. Let’s also not forget the hostility of Republicans in Congress who are more interested in attacking Obama than helping the people of this country. Their actions toward Obama shows how racism has always operated to block and prevent intelligent blacks from making progress if blacks are autonomous enough to act as if they do not need white permission for everything.

  • Michael Hense








    I HAVE A DREAM!!!”

    Michael A. Hense
    Brooklyn, NY

  • Michael Hense

    As An “African American” I Find It Incredible That you Fall Into Line With So Many Others That See Mr. Obama As BLACK… When His Mother Was A Salt Of The Earth White Woman From The Heartland…

  • Michael Hense

    Open Your Eyes john… You Are Being Played By Experts With A Clearly Defined Agenda…

    Divide And Conquer… Divide And Control…

    Keep Em Fighting Each Other And When the Time Comes It’ll Be Easy To Implement Martial Law…

    Look At What Happened In Boston Recently…

    Now You’re Hearing Hate Whitey.. Hate Da Niggas… Hate The Muslims… Hate The Rich…

    They Play On The Innate Fear That Is Present Within All Of Us… That Primal Boogie Man Of Hate And Fear…

    Don’t Become A Willing Pawn… All Of You…

    Be Better Than than They Expect…

    That’s How You Can Truly Honor MLK On The Anniversary Of The Great Coming Together…

  • Anonymous

    Indeed, “salt of the earth” people don’t engage in the nonsense of black/white, but in the humanity of us all. I give thanks to Obama’s mom for ignoring the drivel of Michael H. and his minions.

  • Michael Hense

    then, by all means, take your rightful place in line, and join the other mindless racists who judge a person by the color of their skin…

    the same ones who used hang people of color, and also hang those salt of the earth white people who happen to look like they were “colored”… or who they saw as N-lovers…

  • Anonymous

    You sir, were the one who belittled those who ignored the black/white to embrace a child of biracial people. Or what does “fall in line….those who see Obama as black (as if that were bad) and Salt of earth (white) mean to you? Perhaps you didn’t put that clearly and meant it differently then it sounded, if that is the case I am sorry to have misinterpreted you. People see him as black because he has a black face, and quite frankly -so what -unless you fear and hate a black face. And blacks can also be the “salt of the earth” .

  • Michael Hense

    you’re delusional if you believe what you just said…

    people see him as black because they have been taught to see him as black…

    this is America… wake up…

    it also sounds like you see yourself as other people see you…

    i’m sorry if i’m not as politically correct as you might like me to be, but i’m just so sick of people not being able to accept the truth…

    the truth is that you are all being played… and you sound like a willing victim…

    Black President!!! hahahaha gimme a break…

  • Anonymous

    “taught to see him as black”??? Just who is delusional? When the day comes when this world sees a person with a black face as anything but black, I will be the first to cheer. Do you know any black/white people who get treated as anything but black? Wish it were so. Wish black were not a skin color to “not see” so we could all be considered only on the content of our character as a famous man once said, but it isn’t here yet ,my friend.

  • Michael Hense

    i’m not gonna argue with you… one day you may wake up… who knows…

    have ya ever been to Africa… ever seen a real black face… i mean BLLLAAACCKK… have ya… huh…

    what about Ethiopia… ever been there… some Blacks there are lighter than some whites in Italy… with greenish blue eyes…

    what would you call them…

    what would the racists who lived in Selma have called em…

    no… i can’t help you… living in America has done such a number on you you’re almost beyond help… you wanna believe in your fantasy so much that facts just wiz right past you…

    sorta like in the Matrix (movie)… you’d defend the very systems that have f#@ked you up so much… you’ll even fight to defend them…

    you’re a victim and you don’t even realize it…

    you will one day though… but hey, till then… don’t worry… be happy…

    nuttin but luv for ya baby…

  • moderator

    Personal attacks are not allowed. If you choose to ignore our comment policy you will not be able to participate in our community.

    Thank You,
    Sean @ Moyers

  • Anonymous

    Micheal are you sick? What is BLAAACCCKK??? Some shade of a color is supposed to indicate something? I don’t care how light or dark someone is. I don’t think it means sh$#. I don’t think any more or less of Obama because of his shade of skin color. What “system am I defending” in your opinion? Can you get off your high horse and just talk to me? If I have to go to Ethiopia to understand blacks, do blacks have to go to Sweden to understand whites? WHAT are you talking about???? Like it or not Obama’s skin color has defined him. I don’t agree it should ,but it is true. In truth I thinks he acts more white than black if you want to define a difference. In any event he “acts” like a politician interested in his own beliefs and totally uninterested in the what the rest of us think. THAT HAS NO COLOR!!!!

  • Michael Hense

    “Like it or not Obama’s skin color has defined him. ”

    YESSSS… by people who can only see things in terms of black or white…

    by people like you…

  • Anonymous

    Michael, Obama has a black face. That is not a bad thing and if you see it that way YOU HAVE THE PROBLEM.

  • Michael Hense

    a “bad thing”… now, where did that come from…

    “Michael, Obama has a black face”

    just what i said above… people who can only see things in terms of black or white…

    try looking past the color of his face… try looking at the man… at the heart and soul of the person…

    try looking with better eyes Carol…

  • Anonymous

    I just said I look beyond the colors. Michael. I said it a few times. My God , I’m sorry you are lost in your rage. I just read some of your past comments to people, they are mean spirited and lacking in understanding. Such as : ” If your mutha had a son, he’d look like what I am about to flush down the toilet”, is a sick comment, Michael. Please get help.

  • Michael Hense

    you’re the one who appears to be raging…

    if you can’t calm down, then you’re gonna have to argue with yourself…

    did you read what the comment that the poster i was responding to said… did you spend some time at that zoo over there and read the racist remarks they were posting…

    are you defending them?

    are you trying to drag that sewage over to this seemingly more civil exchange?

    please… find someone else to follow around if that’s your purpose…

  • Anonymous

    Bye, Michael, good luck

  • Michael Hense

    god bless…

  • moderator

    CarolCrown and Michael Hense,

    You both have made your initial points quite clearly. Please avoid personal attacks and follow our comment policy.

    Thank You,

    Sean @ Moyers

  • moderator

    Michael Hense and CarolCrown,

    You both have made your initial points quite clearly. Please avoid personal attacks and follow our comment policy.

    Thank You,
    Sean @ Moyers

  • Michael Hense

    thank you…

  • Anonymous

    I admire & respect Obama’s mother we know his roots stem from the heartland however (white) amercia or the birthers do not see it that way. it really does not matter if he was green & his mama was green but if his skin is black white amercia sees black point blank. to distinguish his color as a black president the media/pundits/journos expect a miracle as if magically black unemployment would go down. No it would not, why is due to republican in office let go most or downsized government employees who happen to be black or Hispanic. Major fortune 500 companies are not hiring, & the others have shipped their jobs overseas. Let be real here if we continue to allow the republicans to get their way & stop him at every turn it will get much worse, instead of praising Boehner & the do nothing congress & allowing them to disrespect him every single day let not nitpik about the color of his skin

  • Anonymous

    Following the 1963 march (referred to back then as the Civil Rights March on Washington), Dr. King began work on formulating the Poor People’s Campaign — an issue that has virtually been censored out of mainstream and liberal media. What scared the middle class most about Dr. King was his call to the poor of all races to unite, recognizing that they’re in the same (sinking) boat for the same reasons.

  • Anonymous

    richdoll, As a white woman, I agree with you. My only point of disagreement: This generation has been bullied out of recognizing reality. Reality is, not everyone can work, due to health or circumstances, and there simply aren’t jobs for all who desperately need one. The US has shipped out the bulk of its manufacturing jobs while instituting several policies (mandatory workfare, increased prison labor, etc) that increased the number of people in need of jobs. More workers for fewer jobs. We look at the policies that took the US to its height of shared wealth AND productivity, from FDR until the 1980s, and reversed those policies. This isn’t the first time the US has been in such an economic mess.

  • Anonymous

    But how many black people would regard Obama as white? Regardless, I just don’t think color is the issue. The US today is about money. American values are defined by dollar signs. We are FAR more deeply divided by class than race, and we’ve obviously been in the midst of class warfare, middle class against the post-middle class/poor.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, Dr. King did explicitly point out that while black Americans are disproportionately poor, the majority of our poor are white, and that remains true today. What he said that scared the heck out of the middle class at the time (as it would today) was that the poor of all races need to recognize how and why they’re in the same sinking boat — and realize that it’s in their own best interests to unite to push back.

  • Anonymous

    No, the majority of Americans in deep poverty today are white. There has been a huge increase in rural poverty (and suicides, incidentally), which we choose to ignore. Most of our poor are women. Few white adults are getting by on any assets remaining from previous generations.That’s just a middle class/upper-middle class thing, and the majority of us came from ordinary working class families. Manufacturing jobs from WWll until Reagan created the huge middle class we had, and the range of New Deal/Great Society programs not only greatly strengthened the middle, were the rungs on the proverbial ladder out of poverty, usually into the middle class (dirty little secret: Some 80% of AFDC recipients used welfare only until their children began school, then quit welfare for jobs). Of course, we’ve been phasing out the middle class for years now (often via policies supported by the middle class).

  • Anonymous

    I disagree. You imply that poor white people somehow didn’t know that they were poor, or… what? It is the middle class that (perhaps understandably) worked for years to deeply divide the poor by race, pitting them against each other. What do you think white people think when middle class whites refer to them as “trailer trash,” for example? Middle classers of all races have grotesquely dehumanized the poor of all races, esp. since the 1980s. “It’s the economy, stupid.” Class. How ignorant to think that poor white people somehow benefited from the privileged class! Even liberals have worked hard to sweep white poverty under the carpet.

  • Anonymous

    Actually, by now many/most of those who are poor have been kept so poor that they don’t have any debts. They don’t have debts because they were pushed out of the credit system years ago. They pay cash or go without. An unknown percentage of today’s population has been pushed out of the economy entirely. Think about it: Millions of Americans are paid too little to put anything into savings, and are a single job loss from losing absolutely everything. How do you then get a job without a home address, phone, bus fare? They just become a part of the restored “Invisible America.”

  • Anonymous

    I disagree. This is the illusion that those in power hope to maintain. Most working class families didn’t enjoy the traditional white privileges! They just worked, and assuming there was at least one male earner in the family, they did OK. Things changed when the US began its Great Job Drain in the 1980s.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you, FLeFlore. It’s really insulting to have anyone imply that all of us vote according to race or appearance or any of superficial issue.More importantly, you make the point that there are few things that a president actually has the power to do without Congress’ approval.

  • Anonymous

    have you seen the vitriol & nasty rhetoric towards President Obama lately ??? I doubt very seriously see him as white not that it matters. He the leader of these United states he still can’t do what Clinton (god forbid ) or GW Bush did there is still a fine line he still has to walk & the boundaries’ placed on him. In this society if you look black you are black period it does not matter about the other 1/2. we are more divided by race it is apparent everyday

  • bzbx

    “We have a black President.”
    We have a biracial President. Why is this fact so often overlooked, seemingly even by President Obama himself at times.

  • Anonymous

    well said. thanks for posting.

  • Anonymous

    Willard, you can’t be agreeing and at the same time write oppositional statements by blaming President O’bama… Ms. Bender stated clearly, “It’s not that government is bad or that corporations are evil. The problem of each is their hierarchical foundation. Top-down oneupmanship dehumanizes the many to reward the few. This exclusionary model

  • Anonymous

    I agree that “it is unfair to just target President Obama” BUT, I also think it is unfair for YOU to blame the southerners. We do have some blue states in the South… contrary to popular African American belief, the South is not the same South of the 60s. In fact, the largest populations of African Americans choose to live in the South.

  • Anonymous

    I’m glad you made that statement, because I have a question that I’ve been too fearful to ever bring up. I need you to correct me if I’m wrong and maybe help me understand… I voted for O’bama and was befuddled when he was labeled “the first Black American President,” because I was under the impression that bi-racial people, as a general rule, were ostracized in the African American community. As a white person, I can state with some confidence that bi-racial people are ostracized in the white community. In all these years, I’ve never heard it mentioned, or discussed. Would you even want to go there [answer me]? I feel it may be too hot of an issue in both black and white populations.

  • Anonymous

    It’s ironic. I think it’s overlooked, because to acknowledge it would be to out the prejudice that exists in both B & W communities. Bi-racial people have historically been ostracized by both groups. Blacks can safely label our president “black,” while of course Whites cannot label him “white.” Logically, being bi-racial… aka… the largest minority of all, should have brought us all closer together; but, we (B&W) couldn’t very well openly acknowledge our collective racist views toward the bi-racial community. It’s an ironic, little-discussed conundrum.

  • Michael Hense

    nothing’s too hot to discuss… at least not for me…

    i have a bad habit of dealing with facts… and that gets me in trouble on a lot of fronts as facts tend to edge people out of their mental comfort zones…

    i cannot answer your question, as i do not represent the black community of america… if such a thing even exist…

    Africa is larger than Europe and has a significantly larger population than Europe… asking about the black community in America would be almost like asking about the white community in America… first one must establish if these communities really exist…

    but i digress…

    getting back to your question… in my experience, it seems to me that biracial people with African lineage, seem to have less trouble being ostracized by blacks than by whites as a whole… much less… just my conclusion… not based on any stats that i am aware of…

    there’s no steadfast rule… i guess it depends which sub community of the respective communities you want to dissect…